> A great brand can take months, if not years, and millions of dollars to build. It should be the thing you hold most precious. It can be destroyed in hours by a blogger upset with your company. Andy Beal
A company's brand and reputation will live or die by what is said about it online. By following a few simple rules you can ensure that your company will fly. Failing to track and react to what is being said about you online could be fatal for your company.
Monitoring your reputation online is similar in many ways to monitoring what is said about you offline, with one major difference: news (good or bad) can spread like wild fire online. What starts today as a rant from a disgruntled customer could tomorrow have spread round the internet leaving your brand in tatters.
With a bit of inspiration, some talent and of fair slice of luck you can use the same power to drive your brand forward. The infamous digg effect can drive thousands of visitors and hundreds of links all of which can do wonders to your visibility online, and when used correctly can have a massive influence on the bottom line of any business.
The following strategies can help you to exert a bit more control over what is being said about you online:
###1. Track everything said about you online.
The first step is to track all mentions of you, your brand, your products and your company. There are numerous options, including our very own reputation monitor.
###2. Build relationships - say thank you
For each positive comment you find online take the time to say thank you. Make your "thank you" real, personal and honest and people will appreciate it. The more conversations you can have with people around the internet the better. Building relationships and building your network is an amazingly positive side effect of improving your reputation online.
###3. Participate in relevant online communities
Building your profile in online communities can be an incredible way to get your name known and to build a reputation. The golden rule is to go all out to help other people. If you are only in it for personal gain then you will not get any benefit from it.
Many of the leading names in the SEO world are incredibly active in various forums. In the SEO world over 50% of people in a recent SEOmoz post said they first learnt seo by reading an participating in SEO forumns. So not only can you learn gain an incredible wealth of information, these forums can give you incredible exposure and when used correctly can be a huge help in growing your online reputation. Here are a few guys from the Cre8asite Forums who have helped me immensely through their involvement in the forum.
###4. Give away the farm
There is plenty of debate about how much information you should give away for free. Talking purely from a reputation standpoint, the more quality advice you can give away the more you will build your reputation online. Businesses have been built based on giving away information. Take a look at these four posts from the "popular posts" at Marketing Pilgrim, each one is giving away information for free, and each new reader and new subscriber is one more relationship. Online reputation can be summed up as "build relationships".
##What if there are negative comments?
The first 4 rules are all about improving your reputation, however by putting yourself into the public domain you are also increasing the chance that someone will disagree with what you say. Not only that but people love to diss the big guys. The next set of rules are to help protect your brand and manage your online reputation.
###5. Track what is being said.
(Yes, I know this is the same as #1 - you can go and look at our reputation monitor if you like!
Failure to track what is being said about you online is asking for trouble. If you don't know what is being said, you can't respond, and if you don't respond and help to solve the problem the next thing you know is that the problem is out of all control and you will lose business because of it.
> "Seven out of ten British consumers will not click through to a company's website if search results contain negative comments about them. This must mean that McDonalds' site gets very few UK visitors. " e-consultancy.com
###6. Say you are sorry.
When something negative about your company happens, take the time to say you are sorry - make sure it isn't a false apology.
Take the time to speak to them, if you can speak to the person on the phone do so. It is likely to have the best response. If you fail to speak to them directly try to send an email or leave a comment or anything, just make contact. Be very careful any time you put something into writing as it can easily be miss-interpreted. Richard Denny has a great post and related free e-book on the very subject.
###7. Put the facts online
Quite often, negative online press stems from confusions or incorrect facts. You can often clear up confusions and incorrect facts through dialogue with the appropriate people, but in serious cases, where many people are getting confused, you may well want to make your side of the story available on your website.
After the recent shooting tragedy at Virginia Tech, there was a bit of a stir caused by the claim that the killer had bought ammunition from eBay. An eBay spokesman denied this:
> In looking at his activity on the site, we can confirm that at no point that he used eBay to purchase any guns and ammunition. It is strongly against eBay policy to try to sell guns and ammunition.
Their statement is also available on their own website: eBay statement (though it's not particularly easy to find on Google.
###8. Control the search engine results
Whilst the stat above about people's behaviour when faced with negative search engine results is based on British Consumers I suspect the story is similar around the world. One way of staying in control of the message people receive when they search for your company is to proactively seek to tell your story in the search engine results. Going too far down this route could be viewed as somewhat 'grey' hat (hi Graywolf), but certainly creating profiles for yourself and your company on many of the largest social media sites is a good idea to help you control your online reputation.
###9 Stay ethical in your reputation management
Whatever the issue that you are trying to deal with (whether real or perceived, ethical or unethical), it is important to do no further harm with your attempts to manage your reputation. This is not about "getting things deleted from Google" or covering up bad things you have done. It's about presenting yourself and your company in the best possible light - almost every company needs some marketing, after all.
###10 Listen to feedback
If you can take on board suggestions and criticisms from your customers and the wider community, you are a long way towards doing the best you can. In this mode, we'd like to invite comments and suggestions from you guys. Let us know what you think we've missed.
Three links to Hugh because he says it so well: